Published: May 15, 2001
The York Toy Show:
By Catherine Saunders-Watson
YORK, PA. – Winter was slow in leaving us this year, and while the cold weather season brings with it the bonus of numerous ritzy, indoor shows, these blue chip affairs can end up being the “browse-only” type, unless you’re looking for a $10,000 doorknob that came out of a house where Abraham Lincoln once slept. Sometimes it’s more fun to attend a down-to-earth event like the February York Toy Show, held in the Memorial Building of the York Fairgrounds. It’s big enough to offer variety, small enough to feel friendly, and best of all, vigilantly keeps the focus on quality vintage toys and a few closely related categories.
The first eye-catching booth we encountered was that of Matthew Protos of Boonesboro, Md. He had set up a fascinating wind-up short wave radio station made by Marx in the late 1950s. Tinplate with lithographed dials, gauges and working lights, it came with its original box whose dated jargon said “For the young ‘ham’ operator.” It was priced at only $350 because one antenna tower was missing, but Matthew was quick to point out that a modern replacement part could probably be bought for only $75. Seemed like a deal to me.
Dean Klein of Tallman, N.Y. was setting out a Bandai ’63 Cadillac Eldorado when our camera caught him. With its original box, the car was modestly priced at $850. “I’m intentionally trying to keep my prices low,” he said. “You have to be a lot more competitive, now, because of eBay.” Asked what is selling well for him these days, Dean replied, “Vehicles and comic character stuff, especially Disney.”
Bucks County, Pa. dealer Rick Both has only been setting up at York for the last few years, but he seemed to have the show’s demographic well sized up. He showed us a beautiful French tin and wicker wind-up horseless carriage with pug dogs as driver and passenger, respectively. “The dogs are made of leather and have glass eyes,” he told us. “When you wind it up, the dog seated at the rear rocks forward and raises its arm.” Rick had bought the rare turn-of-the-century toy in Seattle and re-priced it at $10,500.
Another Pennsylvania dealer, who declined to be named, had brought an 1880s-vintage Vichy automaton of a female magician dressed in panné velvet. When wound up, music played and the woman lifted and lowered cones to make rdf_Descriptions disappear. Tagged at $3500, it seemed well-priced considering the relative sophistication of its movements.
Karen Novak of New Paris, Pa. calls her toy business “The Hen’s Tooth,” as in “rare as a ….” Her specialty is animal pull toys, and she travels to auctions in a four-state area specifically to buy them and bring them back to her “shop,” which is actually an antique barn. On her table was an appealing lineup of horses and dogs, including a pre-war Tri-Ang Clydesdale ($140), a soft-coated wheaten terrier made by Lines Bros. of Ireland ($110) and a 1940s English donkey ($140). Positioned at the corner where the greatest number of potential customers would be passing was a painted papier-mâché dapple horse with cornhusk ears and original mane, tail and saddle. A real beauty, he warranted every penny of his $345 price tag.
Helen Hargett of Walkersville, Md. brought a variety of dolls to the show because, in her words, “I have to be prepared to please whoever might come in.” Many dealers seemed to agree with Helen’s philosophy. Walking around, we saw many offbeat rdf_Descriptions that, upon closer inspection, had a juvenile or nursery theme: old glassware, advertising, ink bottles, reference books, even cigar boxes and old back issues of antique toy magazines. “This show is where you look for crossovers,” one vendor told me.
In what has come to be a pattern at toy shows, we got dramatically different answers to the question, “How did you do today?” Right after being told by one dealer that it had been “a bit soft,” Rich Garthoeffner of Lititz, Pa. responded, “I killed at this show – sold 28 rdf_Descriptions – cast iron, tin, comic character, paper litho, a bell toy.” What was his secret? “I just brought a large group of things and priced them to sell.” Still on his table was a beautiful 1860s Bradley & Hubbard “Topsy” blinking eye clock, available for $5,200.
The myth that says better quality toys are no longer found at shows, because they’re all being listed on the Internet, was disproved time and again. We saw wonderful, unusual rdf_Descriptions everywhere: A bisque-headed George Washington on horseback candy container ($2,500 – Daryl and Barbara Koppes of Medina, Ohio), a Cor-Cor biplane with company name decals on the wings, one of only two known to exist ($2,200 – Tom Sage, Sr. of Allentown, Pa.), a rare pumpkin-head witch candy container ($1,450 – Allan and Theresa Joy of Bryn Mawr, Pa.), a 1920s/30s Gibbs paper litho on tin Pony Circus wagon with articulated legs on the horses ($850 – Jerry and Wendy Arbogast of Warren, Ohio).
Also spied: a 1907 Buffalo pottery jug with Roosevelt bear images, a table full of Peter Max rdf_Descriptions, a googly-eyed Popeye pleated handfan made in Japan for the French market, an old Sears Wish Book, a Mouseketeer bicycle safety belt, an 1880s French reverse painted on glass candy box.
Without question, the most unexpected rdf_Description offered at the show was a pair of turn-of-the-century clown shoes with old-fashioned eyelets and elongated toes. Tim Walker, a York “local,” had bought the comical footwear along with a clown suit and placard at an auction. By simply placing them at the edge of the aisle that abutted his booth, the shoes stopped traffic, although no male “Cinderellas” took the bait and tried them on. “Aren’t they neat?” Tim asked. Definitely.
Just as the toy business has adapted to change over the past decade, so has the York Toy Show. One dealer opined, “It’s good for buying and for making contacts. It has become more of a wholesale than a retail show.” To many, that’s the best type of toy event. The merchandise is realistically priced because it has to appeal to a dealer’s sensibility, i.e., it’s probably going to be resold, so there has to be a profit margin left in it. And to collectors, this means potentially excellent deals, since they have no intention of reselling, but they’ll gladly take the discount anyway.
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